MOUNT PLEASANT - Here's the challenge: Cook a three-course meal in one hour on two camp stoves.
A team of four Wando High School students mastered that challenge and won the South Carolina State ProStart Student Invitational cooking competition in January.
The team went on to compete in the national cook-off in April. Although they did not place, they walked away satisfied, exhausted and a little wiser.
Before hitting the road to the nationals in Charlotte, the foursome performed their culinary ballet one more time.
"Hot pan." A member steps aside, making way for the pot. "15 minutes." A pause to focus on a delicate task. "Heard."
The national team consisted of team captain Kaylee Crane, Blake Barber, Eric Beckwith, Emily Byrd and alternate Leila Schardt. Sam Parvin competed in the state competition.
"There's no wasted movement. Every move is choreographed," said Wando culinary arts instructor Julian Buckner. Students are judged not only on food, but teamwork, sanitation and appearance.
The trickiest part is the dessert, Buckner said at the final rehearsal. "If two drops of water get in the chocolate from the steam, it's ruined," he said.
Chef Robert Carter of the Peninsula Grill in Charleston also coached the team and helped supply some of the more pricey ingredients. The Hospitality Association of South Carolina paid for the students' travel expenses.
When the team returned from Charlotte, it looked like what it was - a kitchen staff that hustled its way through a hectic weekend.
It was the first time Wando High School's three-year-old culinary arts program won the state competition, so it was its first showing at the nationals, too.
It's those "firsts" that the team is focusing on, Buckner said. With the experience gained this year, the students will only be stronger next time.
"That's the fastest hour that's ever gone by in my life," said Byrd, a junior and second-year culinary student. "Nothing can prepare you for the amount of intimidation. I wouldn't trade it for anything."
In addition to the cooking team, Wando gathered a last-minute hospitality management team to compete after another state team backed out.
The hospitality management competition has two parts, a case study and a quiz bowl. Junior Justin Edgar said Wando's scenario involved a surprise storm: The ordering system went down, a chef cut his finger and extra people pack the restaurant to get shelter.
ProStart is a National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation program designed to encourage high school students to consider careers in restaurants.
Colorado's state team won the cooking competition, and Oregon's team won the management portion.
Wando team members made new friends in the industry. South Carolinian Joe "Coach" Crosby of Fair Play cheered his state's team.
Crosby, a supporter of education and former football coach, owns T-60 Grill and is well-known for Coach's Low Country Boil seasoning.
After the competition, students visited Johnson & Wales University, where they met chef instructor Shane Pearson, who offered his congratulations for a job well done.
Pearson marveled at the challenge set before the high school students. He doubted he could do what they did with one hour and two gas stoves.
Edgar said, "Hearing from a chef being in the business a long time made us feel good again."
Could you do it?
In one hour with only two gas stoves, a team of Wando High School students created the following three-course meal:
Starter: Smoked Quail Breast Over Micro-Arugula Salad With Crispy Grits Fries and Pepper Jelly.
Entree: Berkshire Pork Loin With Pinot Noir Sauce, Butternut Squash and Potato Puree, and Braised Rainbow Chard.
Dessert: Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse With Raspberry Chantilly and Passion Fruit Coulis.